Summary: Self-Denial means freedom to follow Christ.
By: Kenneth Emerson Sauer
Pastor of Parkview United Methodist Church,
Newport News, VA
Self-Denial is not something that we talk a whole lot about these days, but I am convinced that it is the key—not only to our eternal salvation—but also to our ability to continue to follow Christ and move on through our lives becoming more and more like Him every day.
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
Because of our Fallen Nature, we human beings naturally cringe at the very thought of these Words.
We are much more comfortable with words like “self-fulfillment” and “self-actualization” than we are with the thought of “Self-denial.”
But many of us have the wrong idea about self-denial.
We think that it means self-hatred, but this is not what Jesus means.
Self-denial is simply a way of coming to understand that we do not have to have our own way…
…that our happiness does not depend on getting what we want.
In fact, our happiness depends on the exact opposite!
Everything within our human nature rises up against Christ’s call for self-denial.
And everything we see on t-v, the music we listen to, the movies we go see, the commercials and the advertisement of products, the false prophets that invade our lives through the horoscopes and talk shows…
…all of these things are Anti-Christ…
…All of these things take our attention away from what is truly important in life—and fill our heads and hearts with lies…
…lies that will ultimately destroy us unless we make a radical reorientation of our lives with self no longer in the center!
And this, my friends is what truly liberates us…
…as George Matheson’s hymn helps to make clear:
“Make me a captive Lord,
And then I shall be free;
Force me to render up my sword,
And I shall conqueror be.
I sink in life’s alarms
When by myself I stand;
Imprison me within Thine arms,
And strong shall be my hand.”
Jesus has taught us by His example that the world’s view of greatness is just a twisted perversion…
…a total reversal of the Truth!
Leadership is found in becoming the Servant of all.
Power is found only in self-denial…
…and the greatest example of this radical self-denial is the Cross!
As we are told in Philippians chapter 2: “He [Jesus] humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!”
And Jesus didn’t only die on a Cross, He lived a Cross-life by being a servant of all.
Jesus flatly rejected the cultural givens of position and power.
Jesus shattered the customs of His day when He took women seriously and was willing to meet with children.
He denied self when He took a towel and washed His disciples’ feet.
He could easily have called down a legion of angels to save Him from those who killed Him, but instead He chose the self-denial of death on the Cross of Calvary in order to save many.
Jesus told His disciples straight out: “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
And after Jesus finished washing His disciples’ feet He said to them: “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”
The Cross for Jesus was His deliberate choice of giving His life as a ransom for many…
…His deliberate choice to minister to humankind’s need about the Truth of God…
…and our need for love…
…which only comes through a personal relationship with God.
Could it be that taking up a cross for us means our deliberate choice to take up something that could be skipped, to take up a burden that we are under no reason to take up…
…except for the reason of God’s love for us in Christ?
Could it mean taking on the burdens of the lives of others, of putting ourselves—without reservation—at the service of Christ in order to prepare the way for the kingdom of God?
Could it mean putting ourselves into the struggle against evil—whatever the cost?
And this cost relates to all aspects of our lives—not just abstaining from certain things in order to make ourselves feel good or feel pious—so we can applaud our own self-control and judge those who do not do as we do!
The denial of self is something much deeper than this.
It’s making ourselves not an end, but a means, in the kingdom of God.
It’s allowing the Holy Spirit to control our clamoring egos, with our preoccupations with “I,” “me,” and “mine.”
Self-denial is not something we do as some moral Olympics…
…it’s something we do for the sake of Christ…
…and when I say for the sake of Christ…